Tag Archives: fiction

Excerpt from “The Strix Chronicle Anthology”

We are like you. We live in your cities, we laugh at your jokes, we share your good times and your bad ones. We meet you in clubs and back alleys, at glamorous parties and dive bars. We need you, to sate our endless hunger. We are your Kindred.

They are the smoke and the darkness, things that could have been you or us, creatures of hunger that humanity stole the night from. They are the Strix.

The Strix Chronicle Anthology is the second World of Darkness anthology I’ve contributed to, and it contains my longest short story to date: “Second Chance.” It’s a noir story about a vampire criminal given a second chance to track down a murderer.

It’s available now through DriveThruFiction.com. If you’re still on the fence, here’s a very small except from my story.

I was dreaming of shafts, of vanes, of the calamus and the rachis when I felt them pull the stake out of my chest. The rough wood snatched and dragged at my skin, and a large splinter stuck to the wound. My back ached from laying on a hard, cold surface. My stomach knotted and my mouth felt as dry as the desert. I could sense a thin trickle of blood diffused through my body. I was hungry. Not so hungry that I would have to murder someone, but hungry enough that it seemed like a really good idea. I opened my eyes, and the situation didn’t get much better.

The meaty hands still holding the dripping wooden shaft were scarred and knobby, as was the bald face leering over them. Poor fucker clearly wasn’t Embraced for his looks. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes, although it was hard to tell if this was a half-assed protection measure against Domination or a half-assed attempt to look intimidating. The worn, black trench coat hung loose as he leaned forward, revealing a knife in a scabbard at one hip and a pistol in a holster in the other. I pegged him as a Hound, and one who probably learned more from bad fiction than actual fighting.

The ceiling was gray concrete, and a single bulb swung right over my eyes. Glasses tossed the stake aside, and the bounce echoed hollowly in the room.

“Sit him up,” a man said off to my right, and Glasses moved towards me again. I put my hand up to protest, but he grabbed me anyway and pulled me into a sitting position on the metal table. I noticed I was naked, and my pale skin was covered in small cuts and tiny wounds. I didn’t go calmly before I was staked. Glasses grabbed my hair and pulled my head up to look.

The speaker sat in an ornate chair completely at odds with the sterile concrete room. Long, dark hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and his clean-shaven face was flawlessly beautiful. He brushed imaginary dust from the knee of suit trousers that looked simple, but probably cost more money than us mere plebes would ever see in one place. To be fair, the Invictus pin on his lapel may have biased me on that point. All hail our lord and master, the Prince.

Next to him stood a woman. She had blonde hair cut into short spikes, with long pink tips falling over one eye. She wore a black dress in a 50s style, sleeveless with a high scoop neck. One bare arm was covered in colorful tattoos, swirling images of cards, dice, and chance that danced as the light in the room swung back and forth. She leaned lightly on the Prince’s chair, but with a regal grace that made her look like a punk rock queen, not a piece of arm candy. Her lipstick was as dark as her eyes, which stared at me with… what? Anger? Need? Probably just reading my aura, or maybe my mind. I dropped my eyes, closed my mind off reflexively, and started thinking about pointless trivia. There are more than 325 species of hummingbird in the world.

“My dear Master Davis,” the Prince purred in soft European syllables as he steepled his fingers. “So good of you to join us.”

We Are Dust has dropped

We Are Dust_Cover

We Are Dust, the anthology of short stories for Our Last Best Hope, has dropped in ebook form on RPGNow/DriveThruFiction. I wrote “Quantum Crisis,” a story about a scientist that nearly destroys the entire universe in his quest to find a source of cheap energy. I am told that print-on-demand editions are coming in the near future as well.

Back from GenCon

I have returned from GenCon 2012 in a blur of activity and talking to people. What I remember:

  • A group of filmmakers is working on a documentary about Dungeons & Dragons. I was one of the people interviewed for it (at last GenCon). They have a Kickstarter up now, and I highly encourage folks to support it.
  • I got to spend more time with friends at this con than I have at previous ones, which is always a plus. However, it made me realize that I just don’t have enough time to spend with everyone I want to, which sucked.
  • Turns out Brennan Taylor really liked my Bulldogs! short story. Enough to ask me if I want to contribute to another anthology of his.
  • There’s a small chance that my insane love of Sherlock Holmes might find a wider audience. It might be nothing, but it might be awesome.

Continue reading Back from GenCon

Meaningful Content, Coming Soon

Have Blaster, Will Travel
Have Blaster, Will Travel

I know that for the past several weeks my blog’s been a bit devoid of content, aside from mentioning the slew of interesting things I’ve been involved in. Most of that has been due to working on the two anthologies that hit my desk, as well as a number of podcast interviews. Further, I wrapped up one tabletop game I was running (or at least, the first season of it) and started a second. I’ve also been increasing my time at the gym, as I’ll be working with a personal trainer two to three times a week in addition to my usual cardio. There’s other personal stuff in there as well, but the practical upshot of all of it is that whenever lots of things are changing in my life, the blog is always the first thing to go.

I always intended this space to be irregularly updated as I had time, but after working on Tour de Holmes, I got used to posting at least weekly, and I feel like I’ve fallen off of that wagon. Anyhow, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back to more regular updates of actual content here soon. I’ve got another “What I Learned” in the back of my head, as well as another game design thought (this time about implicit rules). I also have a couple of topic requests from last year that I can get to. Finally, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a project with Meredith Gerber, but I don’t have any details to share yet.

In the meantime, one of the previously mentioned anthologies is getting a Kickstarter. This is the one for Bulldogs! called Have Blaster, Will Travel, which features some great writers like Greg Stolze, Gareth Skarka, Jared Axelrod, Christiana Ellis, and Mur Lafferty. The Kickstarter is to help fund the print run of the anthology. There’s all sorts of cool stretch goals, including hiring new writers, getting new artwork, and even (my personal favorite) getting me paid $100 more for my work! So, this is a really great way to support my work, as well as helping out Galileo Games, which is turning out to be a really smart company that puts out quality work.

Stuff I’m Doing

I’ve been focused on work and writing a lot lately, so I haven’t had many chances to update. However, some things have broken loose that I can talk about.

The “not quite as big but still exciting” update is that Slices of Fate is now available in ePub and mobi (Kindle) formats, as well as print on demand. If you already bought the PDF, the other formats are now available for free from DriveThruFiction.com. And right now, it’s on sale! I actually get dividends from this, so please go buy a copy if you want to support my work.

The biggest is that one of the anthologies I’m slated for has been announced: Have Blaster, Will Travel, a fiction anthology for the Bulldogs! role-playing game. I’m looking forward to working on a sci-fi property, and especially excited to be working with J.R. Blackwell on the project!

It even has a book trailer!

Have Blaster, Will Travel from jrblackwell on Vimeo.

To the Far West: Writing is Rewriting

Last time I ended up with a shitty first draft. And it was shitty — I changed my mind in the middle of the story twice, I didn’t like the name of one of the characters after I typed it out a dozen times, and overall the whole thing was a mess. So now it was time to make it better.

First off, I should mention that I generally write first drafts in plain text, either using WriteMonkey on the PC, or PlainText on my iPad. I do this because both work well with DropBox (so I can move between software packages as needed), both have just enough features to be useful, and both lack a particular feature — easy ability to jump around in the manuscript. If it’s irritating to scroll back a few pages and check something, I’m more likely to just push forward, which is what I want for the first draft.

At this stage, though, I need to jump around and edit, so I saved the whole thing as a Word document.1 The second draft was very simple — I took the comments I made to myself in square brackets and turned them into Word comments (getting them out of my text), and did a quick readthrough to get rid of grammatical errors and insert styles. Again, this is where the plain text draft helps me — since I can’t bold or italicize in plain text, I have to do this pass to make sure my formatting is accurate. I also found a few more notes of things to correct, and culled a couple of notes that were redundant.

I then broke my notes up into two categories: local and global. Local comments related to a particular scene or chunk of the manuscript (like “make sure to reference the detective’s bag here”), while global comments were things I needed to check against the whole manuscript (like “avoid an over-reliance on eyes,” which is a tell2 of mine). Draft three then was taking on the local comments, and draft four was taking on the global comments. Finally, draft five was an overall polish and revision. Sometimes I do additional polish and revision drafts, but time was running out and I was getting a bit sick of looking at it, so I kept it to one pass.

It might seem counter-intuitive to change small things before large things, but it actually makes sense to me. If there’s a large thing that really needs to change first (like the character’s name I mentioned), odds are I’ve already decided that it needs to change, and I’ll do that in the second draft as I’m working my way through. If it’s really big, I have scrapped part (or all) of a first draft to address the problem, because usually if it’s that huge, I’ve written myself into some kind of corner. Either way, those kinds of problems never make it past draft two, so by starting small and working my way up, I’m fixing more urgent problems, and then making sure that it all fits together nicely later. If I went the other way around, it’s possible that my small fixes would break something larger in the manuscript, and I wouldn’t notice it.

Also, a trick I’ve picked up from when I was podcasting Whitechapel: for my polish pass, I read the story out loud to myself. I have caught so many errors and style flubs through this one technique that I simple cannot imagine writing fiction anymore without doing this step. It takes longer (and in my case, makes your wife look at you a bit strangely), but it really does work.

And so, five drafts later, I have the first draft for the editor. In the past editors have either taken my first draft entirely or made minor edits without needing my input, but I never assume that. I always expect that I will have to do even more revisions based on editorial feedback, which might include going back to draft one.

Writing is rewriting. Lots and lots of rewriting.

  1. I have in the past used other software like OpenOffice for this stage, but I find myself coming back to Word time and again.
  2. A tell is what I call a quirk of style that comes up time and again. Once in a while it’s clever and interesting, but most of the time as a writer you want to reduce your tells as much as you would when playing poker.

To the Far West: By Any Means Necessary

Last time, I talked about outlining the story. From there, I started on my shitty first draft. (Note: Get used to the word “shitty.” It comes up a lot.)

To be clear, I intentionally call this a shitty first draft. That first draft is paralyzing — the act of pure creation is terrifying, and many potential writers have crumbled under the gaze of that empty screen or that blank paper. For a while, I called it a “zero draft” so I wouldn’t even think about it as a draft, but I think that discounts the work that goes into it. Rather, I embrace the shitty first draft, because I have one goal and one goal only with this draft.

Finish it, by any means necessary.

There are lots and lots (and lots) of strategies for finishing that draft, and not only are they often unique to the writer, but they can be unique to the project as well. I generally find that I need a wordcount budget — some figure that I tell myself I will hit to qualify as success. In the past, I have used weekly budgets that I can allocate as time permits, but it had been a while since I hammered on a project with a timeline, so I decided that I needed a small but daily goal: 500 words a day.

This is where the vague, bullet-point list works well for me. With just 500 words, I don’t really have room to mess around. If I want to keep interested in what I’m working on, I have to feel a sense of progression. With the bullet-point outline, though, the small units work in my favor. It’s easy to go “Today, I’m going to write to this bullet-point in the story.” Since I’ve done the outline, I don’t have to worry too much about how it all hangs together or how this part connects to that part — I only have one point of focus. Get to the next signpost. Write to the next stopping point. Get 500 words down.

Finish it, by any means necessary.

If it’s a rough day, that’s all I need. But on days when it’s going well, I sometimes do a bit more, and that’s okay. Over the weekend, in fact, I pounded out over 2,000 words, because I was in the flow and wanted to get to the end. But the flow is also a trap, because I’ll find myself thinking about the story and wanting to make changes. A few times I wrote something in a later section of the story that changed or improved on something earlier, and I was convinced that I needed to go back and correct the earlier material.

But this is wrong. This is not forward progress. Instead, I left notes for myself in the draft in square brackets and all caps — something I can’t easily miss, and which will irritate the hell out of me when I go back to read it again. Here’s an example (which I’m sure makes no sense without context):


Some writers point out that if you outline, there’s no surprise in the writing. Personally, I consider it more accurate to say that there’s no problem to solve in the writing, which sometimes makes it boring, but the point is much the same. However, a thin outline leaves a lot of room for problem-solving during the draft. In this story, I had no idea what the murder method was — only who was killed, by whom, and why. I actually had the victim hanged for half the story before I decided to have him shot instead (one of the many things I have to go back and rewrite). A couple of times I intentionally wrote myself into a cliffhanger, so when I picked it up the next day I would be ready to solve the problem before me. Each day meant I had something to think about, as well as a goal to accomplish.

Now I have a shitty first draft. The hard part — finishing it — is over. Now comes the fun part — tearing it all apart and putting it back together again.